In an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on May 1, President Obama spoke to the troops and to an American television audience, and signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The visit took place on the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan, giving it historical and symbolic significance.
The day was the latest milestone in what has been a costly and protracted war marked by surges, setbacks, and some success in stemming the tide of the insurgency and reestablishing Afghan Government control. In June 2011, President Obama announced a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops with the goal of a complete handover to Afghan security forces in July 2014. For background see the May issue of International Debates, “Transition in Afghanistan.”
In the partnership agreement that Obama signed with Karzai, the United States designated Afghanistan as a “major non-NATO ally.” The United States pledged to request from the U.S. Congress annual financial support for Afghan security forces, as well as funds for economic and social assistance. In exchange, Afghanistan promised to strengthen its government accountability and transparency and protect the human rights of all its citizens.
After meeting with Karzai, the President addressed the troops at Bagram Air Force base, saying, “… because of the sacrifices now of a decade, and a new Greatest Generation, not only were we able to blunt the Taliban momentum, not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.”
Afterward, in his address to the Nation, the President said that the “tide has turned” in Afghanistan but that there would be “difficult days ahead.” He also spoke of an “enduring partnership” with Afghanistan involving counter-terrorism and continued training, but stressed that the United States would not “build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people.”
He ended the speech on a hopeful note, saying, “This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. With faith in each other and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace.”